Wheeler Pass Via Four-Wheeler

We spent most of our time in Pahrump, NV, during October of 2013 exploring the off-road trails in the nearby Spring Mountains. We were glad to be able to put the Jeep through its paces — and it certainly took us places we probably wouldn’t have driven the small pick-up truck we traded it for. But the real test? Driving over Wheeler Pass.

The locals told us it was a drive worth making — a four-wheel adventure that would probably take all day. We started from the Pahrump side — the Wheeler Pass Road would take us over the Spring Mountains and we’d eventually connect with US-95 to head south to Las Vegas, then back up Rte 160 and back into Pahrump.

Before long, the road transformed beneath us. From fairly even stretches of gravel and dirt we were soon rounding tight curves on bumpy rocks, bushes and yuccas crowding us on both sides. Here you can see a bit of the front of the hood and a relatively straight stretch ahead of us:


I confess I took few photos while we were driving — I was hanging on and hollering “Woohoo!” most of the time. When we got to this gate, we knew we’d made a wrong turn somewhere, despite our GPS:


What to do but retrace our tracks and make a different turn? Back on the right road (or, more accurately, “back in the right river bed”), we came upon the Charcoal Kilns, a national historic site out here in the midst of the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area (within the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forests, to be exact). If you’ll recall, the government was in the midst of a shutdown back then, so nobody was around…


…not that anybody would have been at this site anyway.

At these higher elevations, vegetation reminded us that the rest of the world was in the midst of autumn, and the snow-capped peaks were a hint of the winter to come:


We reached the summit (7700 feet), having passed only three four-wheeled ATVs. Not sure what awaited us on the other side of the range, we decided to forge ahead anyway. We could always turn around, right?


Twisting and turning, we came upon this Cooper’s Hawk. It eyed us warily but allowed us to stop and take a couple of photos before soaring away.


On our way toward down the East side of the mountains we passed other off-roaders who stopped us, curious about the road ahead. “It’s worse,” said someone about the direction we were headed, and we kept waiting for it to be scarier or trickier, and it wasn’t.

So take note, those of you considering driving the Wheeler Pass Road: the smaller your wheelbase, the better off you’ll be. We passed a four-door Jeep that seemed to be struggling a little more, and a long-bed pick-up truck that we’re convinced (though we have no proof) never made it over to the Pahrump side. Most people travel coming from the Las Vegas side, so that side of the Pass is a little better traveled.

Prepare to go slowly. It took us about five hours to make the drive (not including the loop down to Las Vegas and back to Pahrump — five hours just to drive over the pass road, one way). We took our time, paused at the summit for a few photos, and chatted for a few minutes with others on the drive, but generally were in motion that entire time. Those who told us to consider it a day trip had given us good advice.

If we’d been in a hurry, we still would have seen these wild horses and burros along the road to US-95…


…but we weren’t nearly as frustrated as this woman, caught in the midst of a flash-mob of wild horses:


They wouldn’t be hurried, these living homages to America’s wild, wild West.



Our timing couldn’t have been better. As we passed through Las Vegas and wound our way back toward Pahrump, rain clouds gathered over the Spring Mountains, eventually letting go:


Whew! Driving the Pass was a great adventure — but not one we would have wanted to do in a downpour!

About Ellen

Fiction writer and photographer, I travel the country with my sweetheart of a husband as a "full-time RVer."
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